Throughout his 38 years in pro audio, Mike Scarfe has always placed an emphasis on the leading edge, not only in terms of the services and equipment he provides through his Maryland-based company, MHA Audio, but by adapting the company’s business model dramatically over time.
It’s a strategy that has fostered the company as a leading regional sound reinforcement provider in the North American market.
When Scarfe established MHA Audio in 1983, the primary focus was audio production for high-profile artists as an extension of UK-based Malcolm Hill Associates. Over time, however, he decided the best way to ensure MHA’s growth and continued success was to zero in on the mid-Atlantic regional market.
While that focus has evolved, the approach Scarfe takes to his work as an engineer and businessman remains constant.
“I stress providing the best quality equipment and a very high level of attention to detail,” he explains. “Clients have far more options than they used to, and now anybody with enough money can go out and start a sound company. In the 1970s and 80s, we were designing and building our own equipment most of the time.”
What separates experienced audio providers from the less experienced, he adds, “is understanding what can go wrong and being prepared in advance.”
Attention to detail is particularly important at corporate and political events. “It’s paramount because the systems have to be particularly neat and tidy and unobtrusive. The events are very much end client driven, where accurately interpreting the end client’s needs is key to ensuring the company or individual hosting the event is represented in the manner they demand.” The better you know the client, the more effectively you’re able to do so, Scarfe maintains.
Consequently, MHA Audio places a great deal of stock in developing longstanding relationships and personal friendships with customers. “I’ve been working with most of my clients with for 10 to 15 years, and about 90 percent of our business is return business,” he says, referencing the likes of IMP Productions, Live Nation, Showcall and venues such as Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD.
Quite beyond the fact that maintaining strong, personal relationships is a sound business philosophy, Scarfe cites some of the friendships he developed early on as being critical to the path he’s taken professionally and personally since he first started working in audio in 1972.
Change Of Direction
Born and raised just north of London, Scarfe explains that growing up in the 1960s in the UK, he already had gone to work at a local industry, feeling the professional direction of his life had already been laid out. That is, until he hooked up with symphonic progressive rock act Druid.
“If it hadn’t been for Druid, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he says. “It was an 18-year-old school friend in a band saying, ‘We should get Mike to come over and give us a hand, he’s a good guy.’ I immediately loved what I was doing. By the time I was 22, I’d started a sound business of my own and was making a living from it within a year.”
Also during his time with Druid, Scarfe encountered Malcolm Hill, who was already making his own amplifiers and mixers in a makeshift manufacturing facility. “We first met when the band bought a mixer and some amplifiers from him.” By 1976, the two began working together and forged both a professional relationship and friendship.